Growing up in Wisconsin, winter was a grueling test of my will.
Sometimes, the best way to get through it was to curl up in a chair, cover yourself in a blanket, brew some tea, and read a book. I know many people like to read escapist reads, ones that take place somewhere tropical to forget that they’re stuck in an ice cube for the foreseeable future. I liked to lean into the snowy setting, falling deep into books where you could feel the chill coming off the pages.
Below are a selection of my five winter favorites that will help you get through the coldest month of the year.
Oftentimes, our love of certain books has as much to do with the environment we first read them in as it does the plot of the book itself, and that is certainly the case with my first pick. I first read The Secret History in January, 2015, immediately after my graduation, alone in my college house during one of the infamous “polar vortexes” the Upper Midwest is so well known for. If you’ve read this book, you’ll know that these are perfect circumstances to read this novel, following a group of friends at a liberal arts college in Vermont. A twisty, and twisted mystery, I devoured this in two days. In the years since, I still have not found another book that portrays the intensity of college friendships quite like this one.
In my mind, no book screams “snow” quite like The Golden Compass, a modern fantasy classic by Philip Pullman. The world building is exquisite, and once our protagonist Lyra arrives to the North (with an armored polar bear in tow) the action really kicks into gear. This was a series that made a huge impact on me as a child, and a recent reread confirms that it deserves that place in my heart. A true titan of children’s fantasy that reads just as well for adults.
Winter is an isolating time for many of us, and my favorite cure for isolation (aside from, you know, human interaction) is to dive into a fully realized world that barely resembles our own. Enter Murakami. Haruki Murakami is one of the world’s most popular authors, but his style and output can be a bit daunting for the uninitiated. His novels (and short stories) are frequently surrealistic and full of melancholy, as well as requiring a big time commitment. A Wild Sheep Chase, one of his earliest novels, is the perfect starting point, bringing together the well loved Murakami-esque elements with a fast moving plot and a manageable page count. If you’re looking to dive into his worlds, here’s the perfect one to start your journey.
Heartbreak is never full, but the winter months tend to amplify that feeling. We Are Okay is my favorite kind of book: a simple story well told. In less than 250 pages, LaCour manages to pack this novel full of emotion and fully realized characters. Add in a winter setting and an abandoned university campus, and you’ve got a perfect book to read in a single January afternoon. While this isn’t a plot driven novel, it manages to be propulsive as the main character attempts to come to terms with her grief. I cannot recommend it enough.
If the previous picks weren’t giving you enough frostbite, then buckle up for The Terror. A horrifying and immersive adventure following the 1845 Franklin Expedition to find the Northwest Passage, you are at the mercy of Dan Simmons’ singular style. By the end, your nerves will be fried, you’ll know a lot about what it takes to sail in the 1800’s, and you’ll want to immediately start over at page one. After you’re done, check out the amazing TV adaptation, too!